Frozen pork in Switzerland

Got Pork?

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The cost of buying groceries in Switzerland was a huge shock when we first relocated. It’s definitely made us think more closely about how much we used to spend on groceries in the US in comparison and how to cut our new, eye-watering grocery bill.

Moving to Europe has also made us think more about where our food comes from, our meat consumption, and the impact of our personal diet on the environment. It’s something we probably should have considered more in the US, but both of us were raised in working class families where the primary consideration when buying groceries was the cost. When you can’t afford anything but the cheapest option, that’s what you buy. And things have changed a lot in the food industry since we were kids.

How much thought do you give to what you eat every day and where and how it’s produced?  

Most Americans probably remember the famous California milk campaign from 1993, “Got Milk?”  The ad encouraged Americans to drink more cow’s milk, purporting it improved nutrition, and led to an impressive increase particularly in California dairy milk sales. It also spawned the beginning of a long and successful advertising campaign that would become one of the most parodied ad slogans in history, with non-profits such as PETA using it in their “Got Pus?” campaign in 2002 to combat the dairy industry. The dairy industry used variations of the ad in recent years to slam soy milk, a direct competitor.

It’s fascinating to see just in our lifetime how American public perception toward the dairy industry, agriculture, and our consumption of the products they provide has changed. Science, technology, education, and an increasingly globalized planet have raised awareness of the impact we have on our environment – our carbon footprint.

Tasty bread in Switzerland

Always a bread lover, we now go through at least 2-3 loaves of bakery bread a week, plus a loaf of sandwich bread for lunches.

Peanut butter, a staple for us in the US, comes in tiny jars and hovers around $4. We still buy it but have supplemented it with Nutella. The two combined? Yum!

Doesn't this make you wish you had MILK?!

Our Average Cost of Groceries in the US Per Month

The average cost of groceries in the US for our household of two was about $200/month. If we were throwing a big party or going on an extended weekend trip, we’d splurge and spend closer to $300, usually with the difference spent on alcohol and road-trip snacks like beef jerky, an obvious road-trip staple.

We didn’t buy organic (too expensive) but tried to buy local whenever possible.

Have you hugged your local farmer today?

We raked in an impressive amount of fruits and veggies from our huge garden each year. We enjoyed a fairly constant supply of scrumptious homemade jam from my mother-in-law. And occasionally we’d supplement our meat supply with elk or venison from Trav’s brother, which we always appreciated.

Not only are groceries in the US cheaper than many places in the western world, but we lived in Oregon, which doesn’t have sales.  A 5-dozen pack of eggs on sale at WINCO actually costs the advertised price of $3.98.

$3.98!! That’s not even 7 cents per egg, people!

The cost of buying groceries in Switzerland, more than twice the US
Brilliantly colored romanesco broccoli at Migros, a local co-op, looks inviting but doesn’t pass the “Rule of Halves.”

Our Average Cost of Groceries in Switzerland Per Month

To compare, we saved our grocery receipts in Fribourg, Switzerland for the month of September. Every single receipt, religiously.

The total was a whoppin’ 623.50 CHF, the equivalent of $657.60 as of today’s currency rate.

We’ve noticed that price on just about everything in the Switz is a minimum of twice as much as back home, so we’ve developed a habit of halving any price we see here to determine if it’s more or less than twice the cost of that item back home. If it’s more than twice the cost, we tend to return it to the shelf, even if we really need/want it. If it’s less than twice as much, the item has passed the test and it can come home with us, usually with one of us jokingly referencing the “Rule of Halves” in some way.

Despite this handy little coping mechanism, we were still dismayed by September’s cost of groceries in Switzerland. Moving here has made us take a long, hard look at our eating habits, then and now, and what we’re willing to pay for certain “luxuries,” like meat. By far, meat is more expensive than any other food group. It makes sense then that it’s where we should start to see how we can cut our food budget.

Food items in Switzerland are taxed at 2.5%, which actually isn't bad, but wine, beer, and hard alcohol are taxed at 8%. Ouch!
Receipt from Aligro, cost of groceries in Switzerland
One of our grocery receipts from Aligro – note how it’s printed on a full-on sheet of paper? This receipt was 4-5 pages long, making me wonder why it was necessary to waste so much paper. It came out like a Bed, Bath & Beyond wedding registry list!
So how do the cost of groceries in Oregon rank with those in Switzerland? Click to Tweet

How could we reduce the cost of groceries in Switzerland, specifically the cost of meat?

Clearly, cutting out the wine was not an option. 

Instead, we bought a pig. Well, a quarter of a pig to be precise.

We agreed to go in on buying a whole pig from a local farmer, sharing the purchase with our neighbors, Carlos and Nicole, and a friend of theirs who connected them, and indirectly, us, with the farmer. Carlos and Nicole visited the farm to see the hog, which had already been butchered and was being prepared for us. We were able to request our preferred cuts of meat, choose how it would be packaged, and all of the meat was vacuum sealed, allowing us to freeze it for up to a year. We felt better knowing the pig was raised and slaughtered humanely.

But did buying a farm-fresh pig save us money?

Though it was still more expensive than what we paid for pork in US grocery stores, it was far cheaper than local meat from Swiss grocers, even the budget stores like Lidl.

The total for our quarter came to 142 CHF ($149) for 21 kilos (46.29 lbs) of packaged pork, which boils down to the rock bottom price of $3.22/lb, or 6.77 CHF/kg.

It was actually also cheaper than the average price of purchasing a farm-direct hog in Oregon, which would cost about $6/lb (12.61 CHF/kg).  

Not too shabby.

Does that mean we’re going to start mowing down defenseless local farm animals for our consumption?

Not exactly.

In fact, we’re still eating probably half as much meat as we ate in the States, partly because of the higher grocery store prices and partly because we’re not total Neanderthals.

While we love meat, and I mean love – chicken, pork, beef, seafood, buffalo, bear – you name it, we think it tastes good, I hate the mass production of cruelty in so much of meat production. We understand that the world’s current meat consumption can’t be sustained at this rate, that Americans in general consume far more calories than we need, and that Americans eat more meat than any country except perhaps Hong Kong, depending on how you define “the most meat” – by calories, grams, per capita, etc.

I can’t imagine ever going vegan, but at least as long as we have a freezer full of pork and continue to adopt a more environmentally friendly reduced-meat diet, Wilbur can breathe a temporary sigh of relief.

Unfortunately for turkeys, though, Thanksgiving is right around the corner.

How much do you usually spend per month in groceries? Let us know in the comments below. Don’t forget to share where you live!

Fellow expat in Switzerland? These other articles might be useful.

1. Buying a Car in Switzerland
2. Swiss Public Transportation: Pros and Cons
3. Resources in Switzerland

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